Director’s Message

Image: With the support of donors such as Anna McCowan-Johnson, Donald K. Johnson (centre) and clinical partners like Dr. Robert Devenyi (left), Valerie Wallace (right) has developed a new plan for the Institute.

Vision loss due to retinal dysfunction affects more than 1 in 20 Canadians.  The leading causes of blindness are diseases of aging, conditions that cause progressive and irreversible damage. Incidence of these blinding conditions, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and age related macular degeneration (AMD), are expected to double in the next 20 years, disrupting the independence and well-being of more than one million Canadians, and placing a costly burden on the health care system and on the Canadian economy.

Our program at the Donald K Johnson Eye Institute has an opportunity to act.

We bring together remarkable expertise in basic and clinical vision research, an unparalleled student training program, and the support of generous donors. Together, we are developing a world-leading centre of discovery focused on age-related retinal disease and translational science. We will focus our resources on regenerative medicine and cell-based therapies, with the goal of bringing these technologies to the clinic.

Why regenerative medicine?

In the past 30 years, the practice of ophthalmology has been revolutionized by new surgical and diagnostic tools and new drug development.  As remarkable as these tools are, they primarily rely on early diagnosis and intervention to preserve the eye’s function. Serious damage to the cells of the retina remains largely unsolved; once these cells are destroyed, vision loss is irreversible.  Regenerative medicine offers potential tools to protect and replace damaged cells and restore sight.

The Donald K Johnson Eye Institute is uniquely positioned to be a leader in this work. Our assets include:

  1. An established team of basic and clinical investigators whose research interests include molecular mechanisms of eye development and disease, photoreceptor transplantation, eye movement, retina imaging and vision rehabilitation.
  2. Outstanding new wet laboratory facilities in the Krembil Discovery Tower.
  3. A basic research environment with unique links to clinical care.

Our Plan

Building on these assets, we are establishing an integrated multidisciplinary regenerative medicine research centre at UHN. We foresee our facility’s ongoing development as a complex of interconnected laboratories with the facilities to undertake the large scale expansion of human stem cells for clinical applications, and a network of retinal surgeons, as well as imaging and vision rehabilitation professionals, who will work with patients participating in clinical studies, and eventually being treated with, new regenerative therapies.

In the next five years, we plan to recruit new basic science research personnel and enhance our capacity to train and nurture the clinician scientists needed to transfer laboratory studies to the clinic. We will build on the model created at UHN by Dr. Allan Slomovic’s successful limbal cell transplantation and training program for corneal disease. We will create an integrated network of clinicians, clinician scientists and basic researchers working towards new, more effective therapies for blinding retinal disease.